- Joe Cirincionepresident of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. He is the author of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late and Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons. His recent Defense One article is headlined “A No-Cost, No-Brainer of a Nuclear Deal”
- Glenn GreenwaldPulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a founding editor of The Intercept.
Watch Part 2 of our debate on U.S.-Russia relations as President Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. In Washington, D.C., we speak with Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we speak with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept. Click here to see Part 1 of this debate.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our debate between Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, whose banner is “Building a Future Free of Nuclear Threats,” and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept. As we have this discussion today, President Trump and President Putin are holding a summit, at the invitation of President Trump, in Helsinki, Finland, their first meeting for 90 minutes alone, apparently only with their translators. I’m wondering, Joe Cirincione, if this troubles you, what this two-part meeting means, with his aides and without?
JOE CIRINCIONE: What’s that about? Why does Donald Trump feel that he has to meet alone with Putin? What is going on there? I mean, that—when Ronald Reagan met with Gorbachev at Reykjavik, at least he had George Shultz with him. The two of them, you know, were meeting with Gorbachev and his foreign minister at the time. This is—it’s deeply disturbing. It makes you feel that Trump is hiding something, that he is either trying to make a deal with Putin, reporting something to Putin. I tell you, I know U.S. intelligence officials—I’m probably going right into Glenn’s wheelhouse here. But U.S. intelligence officials are concerned about what Donald Trump might be revealing to the Russian leader, the way he revealed classified information to the Russian foreign minister when he met privately with him in the Oval Office at the beginning of his term. No, I don’t like it one bit.
AMY GOODMAN: You talked about the START treaty. While you’re opposed to this summit right now, you say that, you know, talking about START is a good start.
JOE CIRINCIONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain, for people who don’t understand what it is, what needs to happen.
JOE CIRINCIONE: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the START treaty?
JOE CIRINCIONE: There are about 14,000 nuclear weapons in the world. This is a heck of a lot of nuclear weapons, but it’s better than the 70,000 we used to have during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s. We’ve come down. And the reason we’ve come down is that U.S. and Russian leaders have steadily made agreements to reduce their arsenals, step by step, with verified inspections. The New START treaty is the most recent of those agreements. It limits both the United States and Russia to a certain number of deployed long-range systems. The number is 1,550. They can have no more than 1,550 hydrogen bombs on missiles and bombers. Now, that is a huge number. That’s still more than enough to destroy human civilization many times over. But at least you’ve got that limit. And the hope is that you keep going down, down, down.
The risk is that that current treaty, the New START treaty, that President Barack Obama negotiated, will end. It’s got an expiration date, like milk. It’s going to expire in 2021—2021. Now, the one good thing that could come out of this summit is Putin and Trump agreeing to extend it. It’s real simple. You don’t need new Senate ratification. You don’t need the Duma to approve. As long as the two leaders just agree to extend the treaty, it can be done. If they also, in the course of that, wanted to lower the ceiling, to drop it down to, say, a thousand long-range weapons each, that would be a good thing. I don’t expect that. And the reason you want this is those kinds of limits, those kinds of inspections give you a certain amount of strategic stability, give you some kind of break on the nuclear arms race. That’s why we do these treaties. We’ve been doing them, limiting the arsenals, ever since Richard Nixon in 1972. Not extending it would be opening a path to a dangerous new future.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I was surprised when I saw the position that you took, Joe Cirincione, because this issue of nuclear weapons as your life work, that you didn’t feel at this time that Putin and Trump should meet. I mean, you just said—
JOE CIRINCIONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —you listened to Heidi Hautala, the president of—vice president of the European Parliament, the MP from Finland, who was part of the mass protests. And those protests are fiercely critical of Trump and Putin. But she does feel that this summit is a good thing, to start the conversation.
JOE CIRINCIONE: Yeah, I—
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you differ with her there?
JOE CIRINCIONE: I understand that feeling. And I do agree that world leaders should meet. It’s the meeting now, at this time, the way Trump is meeting with him. Again, you don’t need this summit to extend New START. You can do it in a phone call. So, what’s happening is the validation that this meeting is giving to Vladimir Putin, this acceptance that it’s giving it to him, to say that everything he’s been doing, all his interference in the U.S. electoral process, is OK, is fine. And, in fact, that “I am closer to you, Vladimir Putin, than I am to my allies in the Western alliance.” This is deeply troubling.
You have to understand, what Donald Trump is doing is systematically taking apart the liberal international order, the systems, as we keep referring it to, of a rules-based system, that we’ve put in place since World War II to prevent conflicts of that kind. He is systematically taking a wrecking ball to these trade agreements, to these alliances, to climate change accords, to anti-nuclear treaties, agreements, like the one we had with Iran. And for what? For what reason? I don’t know if Putin has anything on Trump. I don’t know if there’s some financial or blackmail issue going on here. But I do know that Trump has been doing everything that Vladimir Putin wants him to. If he were a paid agent of the Kremlin, he wouldn’t be doing anything different than what he’s doing right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald is rejoining us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. If you could respond to what Joe Cirincione just said and also talk about these indictments that came down, announced on Friday, against 12 Russian intelligence officials? A number of Democrats, some Republicans are saying, well, if this summit is taking place—which they felt that he should cancel, after the indictments—that he should demand that these Russian intelligence officials be extradited to the United States.
GLENN GREENWALD: I continue to be incredibly frustrated by the claim that we hear over and over, and that we just heard from Joe, that Donald Trump does everything that Vladimir Putin wants, and that if he were a paid agent of the Russian government, there’d be—he would be doing nothing different. I just went through the entire list of actions that Donald Trump has taken and statements that he has made that are legitimately adverse to the interest of the Russian government, that Barack Obama specifically refused to do, despite bipartisan demands that he do them, exactly because he didn’t want to provoke more tensions between the United States and Russia. Sending lethal arms to Ukraine, bordering Russia, is a really serious adverse action against the interest of the Russian government. Bombing the Assad regime is, as well. Denouncing one of the most critical projects that the Russian government has, which is the pipeline to sell huge amounts of gas and oil to Germany, is, as well. So is expelling Russian diplomats and imposing serious sanctions on oligarchs that are close to the Putin regime. You can go down the list, over and over and over, in the 18 months that he’s been in office, and see all the things that Donald Trump has done that is adverse, in serious ways, to the interests of Vladimir Putin, including ones that President Obama refused to do. So, this film, this movie fairytale, that I know is really exciting—it’s like international intrigue and blackmail, like the Russians have something over Trump; it’s like a Manchurian candidate; it’s from like the 1970s thrillers that we all watched—is inane—you know, with all due respect to Joe. I mean, it’s—but it’s in the climate, because it’s so contrary to what it is that we’re seeing. Now, this idea of meeting alone with Vladimir Putin, the only way that you would find that concerning is if you believed all that.
Now, the reality is there is this really interesting dynamic, which is that President Trump is surrounded by a lot of traditional Republican foreign policy advisers, who have always been extremely hawkish on Russia. Amy mentioned earlier the fact that his own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who’s a far-right Republican, and therefore extremely hawkish on Russia, is saying all kinds of things about how Russia needs to be treated more belligerently. So he’s surrounded by people who are trying to prevent him from doing what he, as the elected president, wants to do and believes we should do, which is forge better relations with Russia. And so, that’s why he wants to meet alone with Putin, because he thinks that a personal relationship with Putin, of the kind that presidents have always tried to establish with foreign leaders, is something that will be in the interest of the policies that he wants to pursue. So, I think that, you know, if we continue on with this kind of evidence-free fairytale that Russia has installed a Manchurian candidate in Washington and is controlling the strings of the U.S. government, as exciting as that is to believe, I think our discourse is going to continue to go wildly off base.
As far as the indictments from Mueller are concerned, it’s certainly the most specific accounting yet that we’ve gotten of what the U.S. government claims the Russian government did in 2016. But it’s extremely important to remember what every first-year law student will tell you, which is that an indictment is nothing more than the assertions of a prosecutor unaccompanied by evidence. The evidence won’t be presented until a trial or until Robert Mueller actually issues a report to Congress. And so, I would certainly hope that we are not at the point, which I think we seem to be at, where we are now back to believing that when the CIA makes statements and assertions and accusations, or when prosecutors make statements and assertions and accusations, unaccompanied by evidence that we can actually evaluate, that we’re simply going to believe those accusations on faith, especially when the accusations come from George W. Bush’s former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who repeatedly lied to Congress about Iraq and a whole variety of other issues. So, I think there we need some skepticism. But even if the Russians did everything that Robert Mueller claims in that indictment that they did, in the scheme of what the U.S. and the Russians do to one another and other countries, I think to say that this is somehow something that we should treat as a grave threat, that should mean that we don’t talk to them or that we treat them as an enemy, is really irrational and really quite dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read Joe’s tweet from July 13th, Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which says, “Let me get this straight. Trump knew DOJ was to indict 12 Russian officials & he still went to Europe & attacked NATO? Still allowed House attack hearing on FBI? Still called the investigation a 'rigged witch hunt'? And will still meet with the man who ordered the thefts?” Joe, you want to take it from there?
JOE CIRINCIONE: This is what’s so astonishing. So, Trump knew that this indictment was coming down, before he went to Europe, and still he never says a word about it. What he does is continue his attacks on our alliances, i.e. he continues his attacks on our free press, he continues his attacks on FBI agents who were just doing their job, and supports this 10-hour show hearing that the House of Representatives had. It’s really unbelievable that Trump is doing these things and never says one word about it. He still has not said a word about those indictments.
You’ve got to understand, this can be very disconcerting, if you’re on the left and you’ve struggled your whole life for peace and justice and security, and you’ve struggled against the kind of policies the United States has deployed around the world. Hell, I got started as an antiwar radical with the Vietnam War. I understand that view. I still hold that view. It could become very disconcerting when you see that there’s another power out there doing—also doing odious things, and now they’re screwing around with our system.
This is what Putin is doing. He has penetrated our electoral system, the basis of our democracy, the idea that we have a vote to choose our leaders, our leaders aren’t picked for us. It’s not just the hacking of the emails, with the help of WikiLeaks, that’s troubling. These guys were also, as we now know from the Mueller investigation and other sources, going into electoral rolls. They stole the identities, got information on a half-a-million voters in some states. What is going on with that? And that’s what’s so worrying. This is what Putin wants to do. He wants to undermine the democratic model. He doesn’t want to have any alternative to his authoritarian rule in Moscow. So that’s what I object to, not Trump meeting with Putin, not Trump discussing things, but only discussing certain things and never once raising these issues, never once condemning this kind of behavior.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald?
GLENN GREENWALD: That’s because the reality is—and I don’t know if Donald Trump knows this or doesn’t know this, has stumbled into the truth or what—but the reality is that what the Russians did in 2016 is absolutely not aberrational or unusual in any way. The United—I’m sorry to say this, but it’s absolutely true. The United States and Russia have been interfering in one another’s domestic politics for since at least the end of World War II, to say nothing of what they do in far more extreme ways to the internal politics of other countries. Noam Chomsky was on this very program several months ago, and he talked about how the entire world is laughing at this indignation from the United States—”How dare you interfere in our democracy!”—when the United States not only has continuously in the past done, but continues to do far more extreme interference in the internal politics of all kinds of countries, including Russia. The United States funds oppositional groups inside Russia. The United States sent advisers and all kinds of operatives to try and elect Boris Yeltsin in the mid-1990s, because they perceived, accurately, that he was a drunk who would serve the interests of the United States more than other candidates who might have won. The United States interferes in Russian politics, and they interfere in their cyber systems, and they invade their email systems, and they invade all kinds of communications all the time. And so, to treat this as though it’s some kind of aberrational event, I think, is really kind of naive.
I think what’s really going on—and it’s interesting to hear it from Joe, because he’s actually been one of the best voices on the left on this question. He had another tweet recently that I actually retweeted, because I agree with it so much, where he said that until the Democratic Party figures out how once again to become the voice of the working class, we’re going to continue to have more Donald Trumps all over the world. That is the reality. It wasn’t just Hillary Clinton in 2016 who lost this election. The entire Democratic Party has collapsed as a national political force over the last decade. They’ve lost control of the Senate and of the House and of multiple statehouses and governorships. They’re decimated as a national political force. And the reason is exactly what Joe said. They become the party of international globalization. They’re associated with Silicon Valley and Wall Street billionaires and corporate interests, and have almost no connection to the working class. And that is a much harder conversation to have about why the Democrats have lost elections than just blaming a foreign villain and saying it’s because Vladimir Putin ran some fake Facebook ads and did some phishing emails. And I think that until we put this in perspective, about what Russia did in 2016 and the reality that the U.S. does that sort of thing all the time to Russia and so many other countries, we’re going to just not have the conversation that we need to be having about what these international institutions, that are so sacred—NATO and free trade and international trade organizations—have done to people all over the world, and the reason they’re turning to demagogues and right-wing extremists because of what these institutions have done to them. That’s the conversation we need to be having, but we’re not having, because we’re evading it by blaming everything on Vladimir Putin. And that, to me, is even more dangerous for our long-term prospects than this belligerence that’s in the air about how we ought to look at Moscow.
AMY GOODMAN: Joe Cirincione?
JOE CIRINCIONE: I agree with a whole lot of what Glenn just said, up until this point—and this is where I think we have to be a little more sophisticated maybe or democratic in our analysis. Yes, our institutions, the ones we created or our country created in our name, have done horrible things around the world, including our own government. I mean, how many governments have we overthrown in our lifetime, that we’ve seen the government overthrown? How many leaders have U.S. secret services, intelligence agents assassinated? Granted. But that then doesn’t mean that you side with these right-wing, nationalist, protofascist groups that are arising around the world in opposition to those institutions. That doesn’t mean that you then ally with Putin or that you excuse Putin’s behavior. This is not an answer to this. Just because they’re the enemy of your enemy does not make them your friend.
And that’s what we have to do. We have to have a balanced approach, again, like the protesters in Finland. Both of these leaders are wrong. Both of these governments are wrong. Both of these systems are wrong. That’s tough to do, but I think it’s the only way to go. And I wish Glenn would talk a little more about Putin’s assassination of journalists in Russia and political opponents, as he does about the excesses and even crimes of our own government.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, what about that, the killing—Putin’s killing of journalists and the poisoning of his opponents in Britain? At least that’s what Britain seems to think, that Russia, the state, is behind the Novichok poisonings.
GLENN GREENWALD: Right. I mean, Jeremy Corbyn stood up a couple of months ago and pointed out that there’s been actually no evidence presented about that, and that we ought to have evidence for that, and was vilified for doing that. And I agree with Jeremy Corbyn that it doesn’t make you a Putin sympathizer or apologist to want evidence for those kinds of accusations.
Having said that, it’s certainly the case—and I said this already, I think twice; I’ll be happy to say it a third time; I said it in Moscow last week, sitting next to an official of the Russian government—that the Russian government is authoritarian and oppressive and is a government that is intolerant of critics and dissidents, that imprisons them. There’s accusations that they’ve killed them. There’s valid accusations that journalists who are critical of the Russian government have been killed. What does that—what does that mean? Where does that leave us?
Obviously, as an American citizen, I tend to focus on the evils of my own government and its allies, because that’s where I can do the most good, where I can have most influence. I don’t speak Russian. I don’t have a Russian media outlet. So I can sit here and stomp my feet and denounce Putin all I want. I don’t think it would have much consequence. It’s also true that there are lots of governments in the world, that the United States is closely allied with, who also kill journalists and kill dissidents. I’ve named some of them. Some of those governments are not just allied with our government but are funding the think tanks in Washington that exercise the most influence on both political parties, including one with which Joe, until very recently, was affiliated.
So, yes, there are a lot of governments in the world that are authoritarian and repressive. The Putin government is one of them. The United States government is also one of them, in different ways, but in sometimes similar ways. But that doesn’t mean that this has any kind of consequence or any kind of impact on the issue of how countries ought to be negotiating. It was also true, Joe, during the Cold War, what the far right was saying about the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was domestically repressive. They did put dissidents in Siberia. They did kill journalists who were critical of the Soviet regime. But that never meant that we shouldn’t be negotiating with the Soviet government, or that by sitting down with Soviet leaders it meant we were endorsing that kind of repression, just as it doesn’t mean that we should now. So, yeah, if somebody wants me to jump through the hoop and say that Putin is oppressive, I’ll be happy to do it all day. I just don’t think it gets us anywhere, that it accomplishes anything. I think it’s incredibly easy to do, but not very important.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get your comments on NATO. Joe Cirincione, you’re president of the Ploughshares Fund, a fierce anti-nuclear activist. President Trump said today, between Russia and the United States, there—they’ve got 90 percent of the nuclear weapons, and he said that’s a bad thing, not a good thing. I think you would agree with that. But what about this criticism of NATO? Again, the Democrats shoring up NATO and the NATO allies, but what NATO is doing and whether you see it as a provocateur when it comes to Russia?
JOE CIRINCIONE: One of the greatest mistakes we made in U.S. strategic policy—greatest being the decision to invade Iraq—one of the—but close to that was the decision to expand NATO in the 1990s—unjustified, unwarranted and ill-advised. What that did was antagonize a Russia that we were trying to make our friend. We brought our military alliance right up to their borders, including Poland and then the Baltic states. If you’re Russia, you’re looking at that, and you are looking at the words of the Russian president—of the U.S. president, but seeing the actions of a military alliance that’s moving right up to your border. To do what? That was a big mistake, and many of the people who supported it at the time now regret that decision.
Do we still need a NATO? Yes, I think we do, but not the way it’s structured. Do we need to increase military expenditures? No, I don’t think we do. I think the demand that NATO allies spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on the military is arbitrary, irrational, not necessarily true. Is it true that Germany should spend 2 percent on its military, rather than taking some of those funds and devoting it to the immigration crisis that we’re facing in Europe? I think that would be a better use of our money. Does Donald Trump actually care about this, when he raises this? I don’t think he does. I think this is just a talking point. And you saw it demonstrated. He starts the week saying they have to devote 2 percent. They agree with him. They reaffirm that goal. And then the president says that’s not enough, they have to devote 4 percent—a completely fanciful figure.
No, I don’t think Donald Trump, on these issues, has positions. He just has moments. And that’s what we’re seeing in Helsinki. This is a moment for him. I don’t think this is part of a grand strategy. I think it’s all about Donald Trump and him meeting with somebody that he admires, that he wants to emulate, that he has an attraction for on a very bizarre level.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, do you think NATO should be abolished? And can you talk about the history of NATO when it comes to Russia?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, first of all, I wish I had a transcript of everything Joe just said, so that I could just read it, because I think I agreed with pretty much every word. And, you know, I actually think that first part, that history part, is so important.
JOE CIRINCIONE: Yeah.
GLENN GREENWALD: It isn’t just in the 1990s, when NATO expanded eastward, in exactly the way that Gorbachev was promised would not happen.
JOE CIRINCIONE: Yes.
GLENN GREENWALD: It’s continued. I mean, even now, we continue to add former Soviet states, very close or close to the Russian border, including Macedonia, into NATO. And if you look at a map of NATO states—I mean, just imagine if you were an American living in the United States, and everywhere you look you saw Warsaw Pact countries, including on your own borders, in Canada and Mexico. Of course you would feel threatened and besieged, much the way that Iran feels besieged by U.S. bases all surrounding it. Now, that isn’t to justify anything that Russia’s doing, but it does, I think—I do think it’s important to sometimes look at our own behavior and ask, “What is it that we’re doing to contribute to some of these tensions? And what is it that we can do to reduce them?”
I also think that that last point that Joe made is actually an important one, and it does put people like me into a difficult position, which is, you know, on the one hand, of course I don’t think that Donald Trump is well intentioned and is going to have the diplomatic skill to negotiate complicated new agreements of trade and of arms control with very sophisticated regimes like the one in North Korea, or at least complicated regimes in North Korea, or in Russia. On the other hand, as we’ve been discussing, unfortunately, he’s the only game in town. There is nobody else who’s saying that we ought to question NATO. Democrats, when you say we ought to question NATO, act like you’ve committed blasphemy. There is nobody else talking about tariffs and the unfairness of free trade agreements, except for a couple of fringe people within the Democratic Party. Just like this week, when he said that the European Union was a foe, what he said was something that for a long time on the left was really kind of just uncontroversial orthodoxy, which is that of course the European Union is an economic competitor of the U.S., and a lot of what their trade practices are do harm the American worker. We put up barriers against Chinese products entering the U.S., and yet the EU buys them and then sells them into the U.S., indirectly helping China circumvent those barriers in a way that directly harms U.S. workers. This is something that people like Robert Reich and Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders have been talking about for a long time. So it does make it very difficult when the only person who’s raising these kinds of issues and talking about these things—we need to get along better with Russia and China, we need to reform these old, archaic, destructive institutions—is a megalomaniac, somebody who’s completely devoid of any positive human virtue, which is Donald Trump. So it puts you in the position of kind of trying to agree with him, while knowing that he’s really not going to be able to do anything about those in a positive way.
On the other hand, I don’t feel comfortable being aligned with people like Bill Kristol and David Frum and all of those Bush-era hawks who are now the best friends of MSNBC and the Democratic Party, either, because they’re not well intentioned, either. And so, what I try and do is use Donald Trump and the kind of shifting alliances, that we started off by talking about, to open up a lot of the debates, that will remain closed if you only look at U.S. politics through the prism of the 2016 election and Republicans versus Democrats. And I think the most important point is the one that, as I said, Joe made just this week, which is that until the Democratic Party figures out—and this is true not just of Democrats but of center-left parties all throughout Europe and here in Brazil—until they figure out how again to reconnect, not with the highly educated class and the rich and the metropolitan enclaves, but with the working class of these countries, that feel trampled on and ignored, and for that reason are turning to demagogues, we’re going to have more Donald Trumps and worse Donald Trumps, not just in the United States, but throughout the world. And that is, for me, the greatest problem that we face politically.
AMY GOODMAN: Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, Glenn pointed out in Part 1 of our discussion that you quit ThinkProgress. Can you explain why you quit, and talk about the United Arab Emirates funding?
JOE CIRINCIONE: Yeah, these are actually two different things. I’ve been president of Ploughshares Fund for 10 years. I used to be vice president of the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is this very effective—a media operation, blog, news commentary, that the Center for American Progress has as one of its projects, one of its programs. I left as vice president for CAP, not because of the reasons Glenn cited, but simply because Ploughshares Fund offered to make me president. And I wanted to try to concentrate—
GLENN GREENWALD: No, but, Joe—but, Joe, just to correct—Joe, if I could just correct one thing?
JOE CIRINCIONE: Sure, go ahead.
GLENN GREENWALD: I didn’t say that you left CAP for that reason. You’re absolutely right.
JOE CIRINCIONE: Yeah, yeah.
GLENN GREENWALD: And I don’t think I said, and if I did, I apologize. But I don’t think I did say that you left CAP for that reason. I was talking about the recent decision by Judd Legum, the longtime editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress—
JOE CIRINCIONE: Oh, yes.
GLENN GREENWALD: —to leave there, and then you saying you were doing it, as well, and specifically cited one of his reasons for leaving, which is things like Goldman Sachs—
JOE CIRINCIONE: Oh, yes, yeah.
GLENN GREENWALD: —sponsors newsletters, and you said there’s too much corporate and government money in places like CAP and ThinkProgress, and that that was the reason you were leaving ThinkProgress, not the reason you left CAP a decade ago. Just to be clear, that’s what I was talking about.
JOE CIRINCIONE: Yes. Well, I’m not leaving ThinkProgress, but, yeah, so, Judd, who’s been the editor there for some time, is leaving to start his own project. I forget what it’s called now, but I just signed up for his newsletter. And one of the things he said as he did this was that his newsletter is not going to be funded by Wall Street money. And I agreed with that.
And this is where Glenn and I also agree. Something very pernicious has happened in Washington over the last 20 years. I’ve been in this town 35 years. I’ve been at a number of think tanks, running projects. And the think tank world is very different now than it was 20 years ago. There’s been this infusion of corporate money, this infusion of government money, both our own government—Department Defense, Department of Energy, etc.—but also Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, countries with a lot of money to spend, who have methodically gone in and, I believe, compromised the independence of these think tanks. It’s not so insidious as they’re telling them, “Don’t do this,” or, “Do this.” It’s more like there are some ways they’re just taking up the space. They fund all these studies, all these departments, to basically do a lot of work on fairly innocuous subjects. And what you don’t see is the kind of hard-hitting, independent analysis the think tanks used to do. And I find that all of the major think tanks in this town are now so enthralled with the amount of money they can get, the amount of expansion they can do, the kinds of buildings they can build, with this corporate and government money, that they’ve actually lost sight of the reason they were started in the first place, which is to speak truth to power and to provide an independent, objective analysis and to provide solutions to some of the core issues we face.
Glenn, what do you think about that? You want to elaborate a little bit on your view of the think tank world in Washington.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald?
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, I think that one of the reasons why this is so dangerous and deserves so much attention—and it has gotten some attention—is because for a long time think tanks did hold themselves out as apolitical arms. In fact, if you look, for example, to this day, at the Brookings Institution, their website has a suffix “edu,” which is what colleges and universities use, announcing, essentially, “We’re not political actors. We’re scholars. We’re academics.” And Brookings, in fact, is drowning in money from Qatar, just like the Center for American Progress gets money from the United Arab Emirates and lots of other corporations, as Joe correctly said. Now, it doesn’t mean, as Joe said, that they take orders, but it does mean that of course this money is driving a lot of the agenda, a lot of the viewpoints, the kinds of areas in which these think tanks are able to work and the types of criticisms they’re able to voice.
Just recently, one of the best think tanks in Washington, whose name escapes me, but it’s currently led by Anne-Marie Slaughter, had a huge scandal—
JOE CIRINCIONE: New America.
GLENN GREENWALD: —because they had a part of their think tank—New America Foundation, exactly—that was devoted to the threats posed to U.S. freedom and economic prosperity by monopoly power. And one of the biggest funders of the New America Foundation is Google, and Eric Schmidt, the CEO or chairman of the board of Google, directly complained. And Anne-Marie Slaughter and the board ended up firing the scholars who were working on this anti-monopoly work. That’s the kind of danger that we now have with these institutions that are becoming spokespeople for and mouthpieces for some of the worst corporations and some of the worst regimes in the world.
And that’s why, Amy, I do get a little bit agitated when this kind of moral precept arises that, “Oh, here in Washington, we don’t do business with repressive regimes that kill journalists, like the Russian government,” when in fact Washington is in bed with so many repressive regimes around the world that do far worse, for so—for so many decades, and continue to be. Yes, we should not endorse internal repression in other countries, but on the long list of ways that the U.S. is propping up and supporting repression, having Donald Trump meet with Vladimir Putin is way down on the list. The very incestuous and close relationship that Washington institutions, including government agencies, have with Gulf state regimes, with right-wing militias all over the world, is far more, I think, odious and gives the lie to the idea that the U.S. government believes in human rights or crusades for human rights or crusades for democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, as we wrap up this debate—we only have a few more minutes—I want to get each of your views, what you want to see come out of the summit today. But, Glenn, are you concerned about this private meeting that possibly no one will have a record of, of this discussion between the two leaders?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, I’m honestly not. I mean, of course, I recognize the potential for there to be mischief done between the two leaders, and maybe, on some level, there is a kind of lack of accountability when you have leaders of two countries meeting without anybody else present, though I don’t think that’s unprecedented. Leaders have had conversations before without anyone else present. You can see, in fact, video of President Obama speaking with Vladimir Putin in private at various summits that they were at and conferences that they were at. Maybe it’s different than having a one-on-one summit, but it’s certainly not unheard of that leaders have conversations in private.
And like I said, I do think that there is this very strange dynamic in U.S. politics where we talk about how conspiratorial it is to believe in the deep state, on the one hand, but then, on the other hand, talk about how the generals inside the U.S. government, like Mattis, and the kind of old, permanent military and intelligence agencies, that exist permanently in Washington, are somehow going to be a check on Trump. I think that’s the kind of thing that Trump feels, is that things that he wants to do, like forge better relations with Russia, are often impeded by the people in the unelected parts of the government that are being encouraged to undermine and subvert what he’s doing. And I don’t know what’s in his mind, but my guess is that he thinks meeting with Putin alone is a way to sort of evade those obstacles and to allow them to forge a better personal relationship that will translate into a better relationship between the two countries.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Joe Cirincione, although you were opposed to this summit, wondering if perhaps Glenn has changed your view on that, but, either way, it’s happening, and what you want to see come out of it?
JOE CIRINCIONE: Well, Glenn is very good. He argues his position very, very well. As you pointed out, Amy, we agree on a lot. And I think this is the kind of discussion you have on the progressive side of the agenda, trying to figure out where you stand and how you should orient yourself. And so, it’s a—I think of this as a conversation among colleagues, and thank you for having us both on.
I am deeply worried about a two-hour meeting, in private, between Putin and Trump. I don’t know of anything ever like this. Yes, leaders take strolls in the woods. Yes, they sometimes hold hands, as you saw Macron do with Trump. Yes—
AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds.
JOE CIRINCIONE: Yes, yes, but not like this, not with somebody who’s directly, every day, attacking the United States with cyberwarfare, who had probably thwarted the political will of the American people in the 2016 election. No, you don’t have a staff meeting with somebody like that in private.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept, just back from visiting Ed Snowden in Moscow.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.